I never thought I’d find a television channel with the tag line "Optimistic Channel" a mile down the road from the Kremlin. Dozhd (Rain) TV, an online and cable channel launched in 2010, has made a name for itself with its extensive and spirited coverage of protests and opposition politicians. In February, Russian prosecutors investigated Dozhd for its coverage of two opposition rallies.
Its studios are located across the Moscow river from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour– where the feminist punk band Pussy Riot held an impromptu, election-eve performance of an anti-Putin song. (Two of the band’s members are facing up to 7 years in prison for hooliganism.) The channel’s huge, airy loft space in the converted Red October Chocolate Factory (akin to NYC’s Meatpacking district) is festooned with pink chandeliers and pink posters. An oversized, multi- colored papier mache Lenin bust greets you on entering. The top of the former Soviet leader’s head has been delicately sliced open and filled with computer printouts. The atmosphere is highly caffeinated yet Moscow professional cool. Scores of young journalists huddle in glassed- in rooms engrossed in "letuchkas" (editorial meetings), while sets are moved around at breakneck speed for broadcasting of daily news shows like ‘Coffee Break" and "Speak." The small but technically well equipped control room is run by a 19 year old woman who moonlights when not studying broadcasting at Moscow’s leading journalism school across the river.
Dozhd’s pink signs have been visible from the very beginning of Moscow’s demonstrations, and its correspondents have been active, on the street and in the studio, interviewing the movement’s key activists like Aleksei Navalny, Yevgenia Chirikova and Sergei Udaltsov. That visibility has elicited goodwill and support. At the numerous rallies and flash mobs that have filled the city’s frozen squares and streets since December, protesters have been heard to shout "Dozhd" in a sign of support; and at several demos protesters even carried handmade posters, "Make Dozhd a Federal TV Channel."
While Dozhd has become a training ground for a new generation of journalists, it is also a haven for leading tv and print journalists fed up with state owned channels and the narrowing parameters of media freedom. Prominent journalists like Pavel Lobkov left Gazprom-Media’s NTV earlier this year for his own weekly "Coffee Break" show on Dozhd. Later this month, two well-known media figures, Leonid Parfenov and Vladimir Pozner, will team up to do a weekly show on Dozhd. (They’ll still have their other gigs.) The duos’ first guest is slated to be the brand new Mayor of Yaroslavl, Yevgeny Urlashov, whose victory this past week is a potent sign that the opposition, when united, can beat Putin’s party in local political races.
And what would the "Optimistic Channel" be without Ksenia Sobchak? Once known as Russia’s Paris Hilton, yet as savvy and nimble as Madonna in restyling herself–in this case, as a leading opposition figure— Sobchak has recently moved her political talk show from Russia’s MTV over to Dozhd.
Dozhd also has correspondents in Chechnya, covering the ongoing civil war in the Caucusus, as well as in London (for business and coverage of the Russian emigre community there) in Paris and the major provinicial city of Kazan.
Mikhail Zigar, Dozhd’s Chief Editor, is anxious the day I visit. Tax authorities are shuttered in a room down the hall reviewing Dozhd’s ledgers. He’s also had to swat back allegations of US funding –a charge the Putin regime has used against various media and vote monitoring groups in recent months to discredit the protests. (Dozhd is funded by a couple who made its money in the internet business.) And Moscow’s fire inspectors come through periodically to search the premises for violations.
I ask Zigar what his hopes are for the station.
His sober reply doesn’t quite match the station’s "Optimistic Channel" tagline. "I hope we won’t be shut down by the government" and, he adds, "I’d like to see Dozhd become a national tv channel." After all, Zigar observes, these are times "when politics is returning to our country."